Patrick Chan will leave France a bit battered and bruised — but still on top of the world.
And the fact that Canada's figure skating star triumphed over a competition he called the most difficult of his career is both a major victory and a huge lesson learned, he said, less than two years out from the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
The 21-year-old from Toronto won the men's gold at the world figure skating championships Saturday, becoming the first Canadian to claim back-to-back titles in 16 years. Teammates Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir reclaimed the world ice dancing title, giving the Canadian team it's first double-gold performance in 19 years.
But this victory was far from easy for Chan, who had made it look so easy in winning every event he'd entered the previous 16 months.
Being the defending champion, he said, comes with a serious amount of pressure.
"Dealing with the expectations, coming in as a favourite," Chan said of the lessons learned. "Of course if I keep skating well and keep getting the same results that I had this season, I'm going to go into the Olympics with the same expectations, like I should live up to [the expectation of] winning the Olympics.
"Now I have a little taste of it and know how to deal with it."
Canadian officials headed home with high hopes for next year's world championships in London, Ont. — the final world championships before the Sochi Olympics.
"We had a strong worlds this year," said Skate Canada's high performance director Mike Slipchuk. "For Tessa and Scott to regain their title, that's probably our highlight of this worlds — their coming back, winning their title back and winning it convincingly. They're in good position leading into the next two years, and that's exciting for us moving back.
"And Patrick came back and had to defend a title which is always tough."
The Canadian team had strong performances in all but women's singles, sorely missing world silver medallist Joannie Rochette, who is taking a break from competition and hasn't announced whether she'll return to skate in Sochi.
Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje were fourth in ice dance while rookies Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill were 14th. Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford were fifth in pairs, Kevin Reynolds was 12th in men's singles, while Amelie Lacoste was 16th in women's singles.
These were the second world championships in Nice, an unlikely destination for an ice sport in the sun-soaked city at the heart of the Cote d'Azur. Palm trees and orange trees lined the streets surrounding the arena, with the Pyrenees mountains as its backdrop. The seaside promenade was jam-packed all week with people soaking up the warm sun.
Chan planned a day trip to Monaco on Monday before flying home Tuesday.
"Maybe go to the casino in Monte Carlo, I don't know if I'm dressed well enough for that though. Apparently you have to dress up for it. . .," he said with a laugh. "I want to at least play a round of blackjack in Monte Carlo."
A day after winning gold, the five-time Canadian champion was still lamenting the perfect program that got away. Chan landed two huge quad jumps to open his program, but then fell on his double Axel toward the tail end, sapping much of the energy out of the final minute of his skate.
His winning score was one clearly not all of the fans at Palais des Expositions agreed with, cheering and whistling the judges' marks.
"I regret falling on the double Axel, I just keep thinking of that in my mind, playing it over and over, because it would have been great, I think I would have been really exhilarated if I had done the double Axel and finished strong," Chan said. "But it was enough to win, save that [perfect skate] for another time."
It wasn't just Chan's pride that was stinging from his fall.
"It's a little sore, I'm glad I iced it right away," he said, of his bruised behind.
Chan admitted to a lack of motivation the past couple of weeks, and he and his coaches Christy Krall and Kathy Johnson are devising a plan to battle that next season. Part of that will be to vary his training location.
"What we've decided is that I'll have to space out time in Colorado and Toronto, or somewhere else that I can skate," Chan said. "It gets stale. The last year and a half has been great, because it's brand new, great rink, great skaters, and I was so motivated.
"But definitely I'll be going back home to Toronto a bit more, spreading my time out, so I can get my mind off certain things."
The way Slipchuk sees it, these rocky final few weeks for Chan, and the way the week played out in Nice, are perfect preparations for Sochi, where if all goes well the Canadian should be one of the country's top medal hopes.
"You want to go through a lot of different scenarios leading into Sochi, so when you step on the ice, you've been there," Slipchuk said. "This week was a real learning curve for him, defending a title is not easy. Very few have done it. And as much as you prepare an athlete to do it, they need to go through it.
"He hasn't lost in a year, and you have that dartboard on your back and people are gunning for you. He's felt that all year. And when you can come out and not have your best performances and still be world champion — which he deserved — is a good learning curve for him."
Chan was fifth at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, and has his sights set squarely on making up for that disappointment in Sochi.
"Everything going up to Sochi now is for the Olympics. Building up to the redemption [from Vancouver]," he said. "I kind of look forward more to going every day. I'm just like a tiger waiting to get out of its cage."
While Virtue and Moir haven't officially committed to Sochi — they prefer to take their careers one season at a time — they sounded more positive than ever this week, that they'll indeed be gunning for a second Olympic title. Virtue and Moir reclaimed their world title this week to cap their first strong season of training since 1998. They were runners-up last year, missing most of the year while Virtue recovered from surgery on the legs that have troubled her for the past four years.
"Every year we say we're not going to make an emotional decision, because after worlds you kind of have this high and your'e really excited," Moir said. "I felt even moreso this year … to be able to train like we were young teenagers again, it really has given us life and made it a lot easier to look forward to having a couple more years of really enjoying yourself."
The last time Canada won two gold at world champions was 1993 when Kurt Browning won the men's singles and Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler won pairs.